Sunday, 26 September 2010

When sour becomes sweet: a tale of friendship and sugar

Approximately two aeons ago, my lovely friend Cie gave me a true proof of our friendship. 'Do not kill' said the accompanying note. 'Failure to look after this embodiment of our friendship will bring my wrath and everlasting disappointment upon you.' It didn't of course; Cie is far too nice for that, but when she had to gently rescue Herman the friendship cake sourdough starter she had just given me from suffocation before we'd even left the pub I felt the pressure start to mount.

You've heard of sourdough bread starters? Well Herman is a sourdough cake starter. He is one hungry boy, however, and he also had a very sweet tooth. He needed feeding a whole cup each of sugar, flour and milk every three days, and a good stir on the intervening days. Thankfully he started to grow and bubble quite soon, so I had some regular reassurance that Cie was not going to have to unfriend me on facebook. He is also quite adaptable - my Herman was fed soya milk and a variety of different flours as well. Never able to resist tasting raw cake dough I was initially put off by his sour taste, but as the days went on he got progressively sweeter until at last, a week later, Baking Day arrived.

Herman, after a week of eating a lot of sugar

Herman is a friendship cake because you only use a quarter of the starter to make your cake, and pass the other three on to other people. Herman comes with a recipe for the finished cake, but with plenty of room to play with optional add-ins. I added white chocolate and - you guessed it if you can remember back that far - fresh raspberries. The final touch is some melted butter poured over the top which I must admit made him smell absolutely heavenly.

I took our Herman and one of his Herman progeny to some old college friends the next day. Their children were excited at the idea of their own Herman but didn't like the smell of the baked version - I like to think their foodie noses were picking up on the sourdough yeast smell. We were too full to eat him after lunch, but he got some good feedback later on.

And so, the buck was passed, my friendship with Cie was approved, and a few more of those raspberries met their cakey maker.

The End.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Kiwi treats

Kiwi Family moved house a few weeks ago and when I went to visit I took a couple of treats with me to remind them of their many recent travels. The first was a reprise of a New Zealand biscuit I made for the first time when they were away - Afghans. This time I used a recipe a Kiwi friend recommended, from the charmingly-named website Ladies, a plate. They are darkly chocolatey biscuits which contain cornflakes - which the recipe description says was a way of using up last bits and pieces in the pantry. Well, I don't need to tell any readers who are still left after being so disgracefully neglected for the past few weeks, that this appealed to my 'eke eke' philosophy immediately. The biscuits had a rich chocolate topping as well which I found I had to thin a bit more to spread - but which was very popular with the Munchkin as well as his parents.

The second treat was particularly for Kiwi Bro, who had just started his new job the day I went to visit. I'd remembered that he said he liked millionaires shortbread, so I made a Kiwi favourite tray bake - Tan Slice. Tray bakes seem to be particularly popular in both Australia and New Zealand, often using coconut and condensed milk. I got this recipe from Kiwi blogger Tammy who has posted several enticing variants and favourites. She also has a chocolate version I'm keen to try - and her philosophy of a greater caramel to base ratio has surely got to win all tasters over. It turned out as I made the slice that it wasn't quite what I had assumed when thinking of something like our millionaire's shortbread. Instead it was slightly more like a cake mixture which formed the base and also the top layer. The base didn't need baking before adding the caramel either which surprised me, but makes it all even easier. I was expecting a good response just from the sheer level of sugary goodness in the slice, but it did even better. Kiwi Sis texted me after I'd left to say they were swooning over it, and they had to fend off their dinner guests with pointy sticks (actually I made up the pointy sticks but there was definitely some fending going on).

So thank you to Alexa and Tammy - definitely a pair of Kiwi keepers!

Afghan recipe here

Tan slice recipe here

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Urban foraging leads directly to tasty birthday cake

I made this cake twice this week, one for my birthday, and the other to take to visit our Vet Friends to see their new Vet Grub (he's three months old but we were all variously busy before now). Plus both Junior Sis and Junior Bro picked up a clutch of good grades in their AS-levels and GCSEs in the last week, so lots of reasons to make and eat this cake. It was borne from a foraging trip with Lauren last weekend, which resulted in lots of wild urban plums, some sloes (sitting in the freezer to be made into sloe gin later on), and some elderberries. I am always worried about mistaking edibles for something horribly poisonous, but Lauren used to want to be a herbologist (I didn't even know that existed outside Harry Potter and am very taken with it), so I felt safe in her hands.

I found the recipe for this cake while looking for alcoholic recipes that used plums. It had great reviews, and hit a happy nerve as my great-grandmother used to make a German plum cake which Munchkin Granny remembers from her youth. It was very easy and I doubled the quantities to make both cakes at the same time. It turned out to be a gloriously moist and fruity cake - not too sweet (there isn't too much sugar in it, and just an extra dusting with some cinnamon on the top). It wasn't the prettiest but it got good feedback in the pub on my birthday, and from Vet Dad the next day. Definitely a keeper.

Festival of Quilts booty - brown spotty fabric to make this dress (thanks, Roisin!); apple fabric to make a bag/apron; bags of felt to make the cute bright cushion cover kit - birthday present from Doc Eco Sis (thanks Doc Eco!); assorted fat quarters for unspecified quilting projects

On my actual birthday I went to the Festival of Quilts at the NEC with Vicki and Doc Eco Sis. We had a really good day, and I did come away with a bit of a stash of goodies. In the evening we went to the cake-welcoming pub with friends and had more good times :)

Giant crochet granny square and small granny square cushion cover (made in Vancouver), sitting with birthday present knitting books from Vet Friends (thank you!)

And on the goodies front, here are a couple of other craft projects I've been finishing off recently.

Appliqued apron - it used to be a pinafore dress I never wore - recognise the apple from the fabric stash above??

Granny star getting stamp of approval from a passing pook

Plum cake recipe here (and they have some good fruity alcohol recipes there too)

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Raspberry stress meets banana stress - and has a happy ending

I made this cake about a week after the huge all you can pick raspberry trip, and I don't mind admitting that they were beginning to weigh on my mind a bit. I even found myself thinking about what to do with raspberries when I woke up in the night, and over-exposure was even slowing my rate of snacking off them straight from the fridge. To make matters worse, there was a whole bunch of bananas beginning to go over-ripe in the fruit bowl. To avoid a complete head explosion, I searched for some recipes which could use both, and which could then be stashed out of sight in the freezer. This was the only one I photographed but the other one may yet get a feature when I can next face a raspberry muffin.

I found the recipe on, of all places, a mums forum, which isn't somewhere I usually hang out. I made a few tweaks to cut down on the refined sugar - subbing fruit sugar instead, and using coconut oil instead of butter. I also upped the ante with the berries - this was no time to start getting stingy. The original recipe was for muffins, but I made it as a loaf and it worked out really well. The banana flavour was nice and strong, and the berries nice and tart. It also defrosted well when I took it out a few days later for a visit from Kiwi Sis (and a lovely visit it was too :) ). After my double baking session I crammed all of the rest of the berries into the freezer on various cookie trays and then bagged them up (they stay separate rather than form a huge clump that way). I'm glad they won't be wasted, and this way I can get my berry mojo back and appreciate them properly again. In a few months time, maybe.

Banana and raspberry loaf (adapted from askamum)
120g plain white flour
80g plain wholemeal flour
2 tsp baking powder
5 Tbsp fruit sugar
150g raspberries
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
30g melted coconut oil
100ml soya milk
1 ripe banana, mashed

Preheat oven to 200C/400F. Line and grease a loaf tin.

Sift the flour and baking powder into a large mixing bowl. Add the sugar and raspberries.

Beat together the egg, vanilla, coconut oil and milk. Stir into the dry ingredients with the mashed banana, and stir briefly, to combine. THe mixture will be quite lumpy, but there shouldn't be any unmixed flour. Spoon into the tin.

Bake for about 40 minutes, covering after 25 if the top is starting to darken too much. It should be risen and golden. Cool on a wire rack.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Happy Raspbirthday!

Kate made me laugh with a comment on my last post - that she has to read my blog at lunchtime to avoid drooling on the keyboard :) Well, I hope this one has the same effect as it concerns the biscuits I made her for her birthday last week. This took place during my raspberry glut, but it also gave me the opportunity to try out a recipe for some really pretty little pink treats I'd cut out from an old copy of Prima magazine. They're little butter biscuits sandwiched together with a creamy, white chocolatey, raspberry filling. I didn't manage to get too good a photo of them but they did look very dainty tied up in a little bag. I halved the recipe but made the whole batch of filling, since that's where the raspberries came in. I used some of the rest to ice some chocolate cupcakes - also birthday presents for a certain little Birthday Buddy and his brother, Almost Birthday Buddy, whom I saw in Cambridge last weekend. They were much appreciated. And I had a lovely day with my old friends Tracy and Julie, too :)

Raspberry creams (from Prima magazine)
[full quantity - makes 16]

75g butter, softened
125g icing sugar
1 medium egg, beaten
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
200g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder

125g raspberries
1 tsp sugar
5 Tbsp double cream. whipped
150g white chocolate, melted and cooled

1. Cream together butter and sugar till pale and fluffy. Beat in egg and vanilla, then mix in flour, baking powder and pinch salt until smooth. Between two pieces of clear film, roll out to £1 coin thick. Chill for 1 hour [I chilled it in a ball and rolled it out afterwards].

2. Preheat oven to Gas 4/180C. Line a baking sheet with baking parchment. Cut chilled dough into rounds with a 4cm cookie cutter and place on baking tray 5cm apart [cookies don't spread much]. Bake for 6-8 minutes, until very pale gold Cool on baking sheet for 5 mins, then transfer to rack to cool.

3. Blend berries and sugar, then sieve to remove seeds. Whip cream and raspberry juice into white chocolate. Chill for 1 hour. Sandwich cooled biscuits together with berry filling [the filling in the magazine picture was *much* pinker than mine - either use more berries or add a few drops of pink food colouring if you want it really pink]

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

A very English flapjack

I interrupt raspberry transmission with another blog post for the Norse Goddess. It turned out when we were visiting in Vancouver that she hadn't come across a flapjack before - or not an English type one anyway. So in the spirit of sharing culture, I hastened to make some so I could share the recipe.

Yes, I am pretending I've made M&S flapjack bites. What of it?

I've made flapjacks several times recently but have never actually blogged about them. Plus I've never made the same recipe twice and so don't have a particular favourite. Even Marcus Wareing's (which I mentioned in passing as a gamers' treat) was felt to be 'as good as another flapjack but not outstanding' by my Scientist Connoisseur of All Things Butter and Syrupy. He's quite strict in his requirements for flapjack, which actually, are quite similar to his requirements for trifle: keep it simple. I found a good and simple recipe on the website of Lyle's Golden Syrup - (so many good words) - makers of sugar and syrup, and felt there was no better a place to start my search for the latest offering for the Gamers.

Flapjack, is essentially, melted butter, sugar and golden syrup with oats stirred into it, and baked. You can see why it's a favourite really, can't you? In America, however (as I learnt here) it is a sweet flatbread cooked on a griddle. Madness. It's no wonder the Norse Goddess was confused. The smell of all that lovely golden meltingness does smell pretty alluring even for someone like me who's not so fussed about eating the finished product. This recipe evidently got its proportions just right as the flapjacks were a hit and I am happy to make it my go-to fave. Of course you can add all sorts of extras - dried fruit, seeds, nuts, chocolate all work, and there are approximately a squillion other recipes on the web featuring other goodies. But not if you're eating it in this house, ok?

Lyle's Golden Syrup recipe here

Friday, 30 July 2010

Raspberry parade - jam(ish)

One of the first things I thought of making with my raspberries was jam, and I'd actually just copied down a recipe for raspberry and rose jam from Grandma S's latest copy of the BBC Good Food Magazine. I didn't really want to make too much as we don't get through it very quickly but I had so many berries that I ended up making enough to go with a 1kg bag of jam sugar - about 1.4kg or so. I made it when jam-making expert Cai came round for dinner last Sunday, and must have severely tested my hostessing credentials by hopping up and down at intervals through dinner with a chilled saucer for her to assess how close it was to setting. The trouble was that it started to get close and then it gave up completely and went really runny again. I don't know why this happened - did I heat it too quickly? too slowly? did I annoy it by not offering it dinner? Whatever the reason, I now have eight jars of very runny, and rather overly sweet jam. Cai and Lauren kindly took two jars away with them and I'm considering making it a compulsory leaving gift for anyone else who comes round.

One of the reasons I'd wanted to make this jam was because of the rose flavouring, but when I got my bottle out I remembered that I'd bought rose syrup not rose water. I didn't want to add too much more in the way of sugar, so I used less than the recipe called for, which is rather a shame as the flavour wasn't very noticeable. So, not the best use of the berries, but I'm hoping that I'll be able to strain off some of the liquid and use it in baking - in Cai's chocolate nutella cake, for instance, or a Bakewell slice. Perhaps it's not so bad after all :)

Raspberry and rose jam (from Good Food Magazine, August 2010)
This is the full quantity - I made two thirds
1.8 kg raspberries
1.5 kg jam sugar
2-3 Tbsp rose water

Night before: layer berries and sugar together in a very large bowl, then cover and leave at room temperature.
Next day: give it a stir and set aside until you're ready. Put a small saucer in the freezer
Tip berries, juices and any undissolved sugar into a large wide based pan, and stir in the rosewater. Start over a low heat until the sugar has all dissolved, then bring to the boil and simmer for five minutes. Turn off the heat and spoon a little on to the saucer. When it's cool, push with your finger. If it wrinkles it's at the setting points. If not, return to the heat and boil in 2-3 minute stages until it reaches the wrinkle stage.
Skim off any scum and leave for 15 minus, then pour into sterilised jars. Keeps in a cool dark place for at least 6 months. Refrigerate once opened

Makes 8 jars

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Raspberry revels - berry salad

This was an early foray in using up my giant glut of raspberries, and was inspired by the amazing salads the Norse Goddess made for us while we were in Vancouver. She used a variety of ingredients in her salads, but they all had three elements which made them stand out:

1. Interesting leaves
2. Some gorgeously sweet fruit - mango was a highlight
3. a tasty dressing - we all liked the maple and mustard dressing from Veganomicon, which I haven't made before.

I've been making lots of versions on this theme since we got back, but this week (obviously) I tried it with raspberries. I wasn't altogether convinced in advance, but actually it was pretty good. The berries are sweet but also a bit tart, which was nice. I'd made a variation on the maple dressing, subbing flaxseed oil, and putting a garlic clove into the jar as well. It sits in the fridge and we just get it out and shake it up every time we fancy a bit of magic salad. I made another version a few days later which had diced raw courgette, cucumber and radish, some cherry tomatoes, some quinoa and leaves, plus the berries. I took it to work in a box and it wasn't pretty by the time I ate it, but it tasted good :)

Monday, 26 July 2010

Raving raspberry mad

We had a lovely weekend just now. We went up to Leeds on Thursday evening for The Scientist and Munchkin Gramps' traditional excursion to Headingley for international cricket. Yes, Munchkin Gramps has five children and three sons-in-law (one more properly an outlaw, which I just like saying), and only one of them likes cricket. I was invited one year but I evidently wasn't attentive enough as the invitation was mysteriously absent the following summer. It was probably for everyone's benefit - I like cricket, but in small doses only. I was glad I wasn't there this year as they came back with terrible sunburn on account of expecting gloom and rain. Meanwhile I spent half the day working, and half with Grandma S and Junior Sis and Bro. We had a nice lunch and went for a lovely walk along the canal, before reconvening for a fish'n'chip supper with the men. Well, fish'n'chips for five, and one sulk from the veggie as the chips are fried in dripping. What do you expect from Yorkshire?

The next day Yorkshire delivered more fine weather, and Grandma S, Junior Sis and Junior Bro indulged me in my perpetual love of pick-your-own fruit farms. The strawberries were over, but there were lots of raspberries, and after a discussion on how many we could collectively get through (they are going on holiday next week), I confidently asserted that it was not possible to have too much fruit, and that I would deal with all the excess. Back at home, three HUGE baskets in front of me on the counter, I started to doubt my words. They were so beautiful though - plump and fragrant, and just falling off the canes into our hands. An hour of washing and triaging (jam versus baking and eating) later, I was feeling a bit less enthusiastic and rather anxious about what to do with them all, but I made my own bed, and now I must lie in all my berries (well, that would get rid of a few).

Raspberry pictures and raspberry styling courtesy of Junior Bro :)

I promised to document my berry adventures for Grandma S, so here is my first foray: raspberry coulis. Simple, yes, but we weren't up for a big dessert after a hot day. Fresh berries are best fresh, and so I made the coulis to accompany a sort of make-your-own Eton mess when Cai and Lauren came round for inauthentic veggie paella last night: meringue nests, raspberries, Greek yogurt and double cream, plus the coulis.

The coulis is really easy to make, though somewhat time-consuming to sieve. Place a cup of berries in a pan with a little water and sugar, and heat briefly, just enough to warm the berries and melt the sugar. Blend in a blender, and then sieve to remove the pips. Add sugar to taste, and chill. I've kept the post-sieving pips and mush to stir into yogurt, though I suspect I'll be picking seeds out of my teeth all day. Hmm, note to self: don't eat for breakfast before a day of meetings tomorrow.

Raspberry count after coulis and Eton mess: three baking sheets' worth frozen, and one giant bowl in the fridge.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Holiday highlights

We're back from a wonderful two and a half weeks away. We were mainly in Vancouver and the Rockies, with a few days in Boston on the way back, so I could go shopping for baking chocolate. Oh no, I remember the line now: so The Scientist could give a paper at a prestigious international conference. Here are some highlights:

First time I've ever seen tofu scramble on the menu in a cafe. It was much nicer than I expected!

Lots of time spent in coffee shops (this one, Agro cafe, Granville Island)

World famous Japadog stand (in several Vancouver locations). I won't show you the picture of The Scientist stuffing his face with his terimayo dog. It's exactly the same as the photo I have of him stuffing his face with a wurst in Munich, but it had seaweed on it. He said it was amazing. They do veggie dogs too, but I wasn't hungry.

Cherries. I ate a LOT of cherries. They were just sooooo good. I envy you your West Coast fresh produce, Vancouverites

We didn't see a bear. I don't mind. I was scared

View down the high street in Banff. Beats traffic and Primark, doesn't it?

Saw a lot of waterfalls and took a lot of photos. I'm a bit obsessed with how beautiful waterfalls are. I liked it that I managed to get the rainbow in this one

Athabasca Glacier. Beautiful. Used to be much bigger. This makes me more depressed than almost anything else except the polar bears.

And perhaps the best bit: spending time with the glorious Norse God and Goddess - the reason we made the trip over there (and worth every mile :) )

Travel's great. But it's great to come home, too.
That's my giant crochet granny square under the pook, made after a workshop run by the lovely Roisin. I turned it into a star for a bit of variety.

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Off on hols!

We're off on our holidays today, so there will be a break in transmission for a while. Happy baking everyone!!

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Trev's requests - cherry choc chip cookies and a new carrot cake

The Scientist went gaming again this weekend, so it was time for me to get baking. I had a special set of requests this time though, as one of the other gamers, Trev, was celebrating getting through a very long period of pretty nasty health-related stuff. The Scientist asked what his top picks would be and he came straight back with carrot cake, and cherry choc chip cookies. Time to go recipe-hunting.

I've made a few carrot cakes for the gamers in the past, variously featuring banana, pineapple and (inadvertently) semi-raw dough. This time I looked up whether Nigel Slater had a take on carrot cake as I've just been reading his Eating for England which I'd really enjoyed. He does indeed, right here, and it's a pretty traditional one - no extras except walnuts, which I left out because of the usual nut allergy. Everything went fine with the baking, and as you can see, it was sandwiched together with some gloriously unctuous cream cheese icing. The Scientist took some more with him and iced the top when he arrived. The cake was enjoyed by all, but it was the icing which was the real hit. Definitely a keeper basic carrot cake recipe though - Nigel won true again.

For the cookies I decided to go extra decadent and make this red wine and cherry choc chip cookie I'd seen on Cookie Madness. It made an absolute pile of cookies, and while the batter was on the sticky side, it baked exactly as directed. I even made some with no cherries in them to accommodate the no-dried-fruit gamer. I was so pleased with myself - until I found out that Trev really really hates red wine! He did try them and thought they were quite nice, but I know he appreciated the thought. And the others absolutely loved them - the whole pile got scarfed in no time and they've been promoted to the top of the double choc chip cookie list.

Nigel Slater's carrot cake recipe here

Cookie Madness' post on the red wine cherry choc chip cookies (with link to the original recipe) here

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Did the gentlemen prefer blonde 1 or blonde 2?

This post is in honour of two of the loveliest girls I know. The first is Roisin, who lent me THREE gorgeous dresses yesterday AND gave me the most amazing cloche hat which is too big for her. She is seriously one of the most generous and thoughtful people I know and I will make every effort not to get her dresses covered in Scootie hair to show how much I appreciate it.

The second is one of my work friends and colleagues, J. J is also one of those people you just simply can't help but love - she's nice and clever and funny and when I found out within a few weeks of meeting her that she has a project to bake a cake every week and give it away, our friendship was sealed. She mentioned last weekend that her cake of the week had been blondies from the Hummingbird Bakery cookbook. I have that book but I haven't tried that recipe. However, I do have a copy of the America's Test Kitchen blondie version, and I said I'd give it to her so she could give it a try for comparison.

Of course this all got me thinking about blondies, and frankly what a weird sort of idea they are - I don't think I've ever met anyone who has eaten a brownie and thought that what it needed was the chocolate taking out. However, given my liking for a quantifiable challenge, I was taken with the idea of doing a side by side comparison of the two recipes.

Getting ready to start testing

Sources and methodology
Now I have to say straight up that I can't reproduce the ATK recipe here because they police people doing that. So this is a report on a scientifically not very robust experiment. What I can say is that the two recipes were pretty similar in terms of ingredient quantities (hard to say exactly because one was in weights and one in cups). The ATK recipe specified brown sugar but that was about the only difference. However, the methods were very different: the Hummingbird one involved melting butter and white chocolate before adding the other ingredients; the ATK was a more traditional creaming and adding sort of job. As you can see from the pictures I didn't do anything sensible like make one and then make the other; no, I tried to do both at the same time, and it's pretty remarkable that everything ended up in the right bowl.

Things are getting crowded already!

Method and get-out clauses
I should add here a few more provisos to my scientific rigour:
1. I didn't have as much butter as I'd thought so one batch's quota had to be topped up with marge. However, this was the batch that won on taste testing

2. One batch was baked in a silicone pan; the other in a baking parchment lined regular pan. The silicone pan batch was the winning one.

3. The mixtures had different baking times, but the faster one took a lot longer than it was supposed to. This meant that both batches had the oven door opened on them quite a few times. The fast-baking-but-didn't version was the winner.

4. The Hummingbird recipe called for nuts. I used chopped chocolate instead. According to the ATK recipe adding nuts would turn them into congo bars which are another thing I'd never heard of.

Out of the oven: ATK on the left, Hummingbird on the right.
So, batches baked, The Scientist stepped up to carry out the 'warm from the oven' test. I know, he has to put up with a lot. The next day I took both batches to the pub (yes, our local doesn't mind if you bring cake - is this the best pub in England??), and got our friends to try one each. Most people said they were too full from dinner, but then ate both anyway. The result was absolutely unanimous: ATK had it, both warm from the oven and cold in the pub.

This is not to say that the Hummingbird recipe was disliked - very far from it. That was the one everyone tried first, and I think they all thought it was going to be the favourite. One person even said he was drooling as he ate it. I prefer not to think about that too much but it can only be a positive comment. Someone else said that the Hummingbird one was more brownie-like, but he preferred the other.

ATK at the bottom, Hummingbird at the top. In the latter the white chocolate is melted with the butter in the first step

I think they speak for themselves really, don't they? I'd be interested to know (but not interested enough to go and research) whether the order in which you taste test makes a difference to your final judgement. If I were being really rigorous I would do it again with the pans switched over, but I think we've already established that I don't mind a little slapdashery (in my baking experiments, not my work, in case any of my colleagues/potential future publishers are reading this). I will be passing on the ATK recipe to J forthwith so she can spread her baking love a little further. As to what I thought: well, I'm a brownie sort of girl, I think. But I promise not to eat any while I'm wearing Roisin's dresses.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Getting creative: embroidered baby bibs

I've decided to diversify from baby quilts for a while, so I get to try some new projects. These bibs were inspired by my book of iron-on embroidery templates, and were made for our Vet Friends' new baby - aka New Grub. I used some fairly sturdy sort of linen stuff for the fronts, and backed them with fun cottons from my stash of fabrics. The foody one used the book templates completely; the dog one has freehand writing and a doggy template; and the poker one is a complete original (thanks to Dr Eco for drawing me a pattern, and to The Scientist for coming up with a suitable poker slogan).

I really enjoyed making these - hand sewing is my favourite thing, and I tried out a few different types of stitches on them. The templates wash off really easily, and for the freehand ones I used a magical water-soluble fabric pen which fades on its own really quickly (and disappears easily with a damp cloth, too). I added a press stud on the back to close them, and used little running stitches around the front to hold them in shape, and for a bit of extra decoration.

I thoroughly recommend this book even if you're a beginner to embroidery. Must find more stuff to embroider now - if it doesn't move, it's getting decorated (watch out cats!)

Waste-not-want-not leftover butter icing cookies

I think that the name of these biscuits may not catch on - not as snapping as 'choc chip' or 'ginger-nut', eh? They were an experiment to avoid having to throw away the leftover butter icing from the cricket tea limey cupcakes (yes, this was a while ago now!). It occurred to me that it's just basically butter and sugar, which are two of the main constituents of baked goods anyway - plus they were already flavoured with lime juice and a bit of vanilla. So I added a bit more of both to give them an oomph, and then added flour to the icing until it looked like cookie dough. I had no real idea if it was going to work, especially without adding egg (which I was avoiding as it conveniently comes in one or none) - but it did! You can see from the pictures that the cookies spread a lot, which I think has something to do with the proportion of butter, and they were quite buttery - in an acceptable cookie way. I was pleased because they still tasted of lime. I took them to my sewing group, and gave the rest to our administrator at work, who has booked a lot of meeting rooms for me this semester! Plus, if you've used non dairy marge, they're even vegan :)

Waste-not-want-not leftover butter icing cookies:
Get leftover butter icing, add flour until it's thick and looks like cookie dough. Rest in fridge, roll into balls, and bake 12-15 minus in a moderate oven (or longer if it needs it - I'm sure this will depend on the individual batch).